How to Avoid the 5 Worst Living Room Design Mistakes
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How to Avoid the 5 Worst Living Room Design Mistakes

Layouts that thwart conversation. Furniture that’s too chunky. Rugs that are too runty. Design pros share the living-room decor mistakes they see most often and how to steer clear.

Fri, Oct 28, 2022 8:01amGrey Clock 4 min

THE RELATIVELY NARROW function of a bedroom or dining room largely dictates those spaces’ décor. A home’s communal chill chamber, however, has to be a lot of things to a lot of people: intimate and sophisticated enough for guests sipping aperitifs and cozy enough for family couch-potato Sundays. With so much asked of living rooms, the potential for decorating missteps can daunt even experts.

Nina Edwards Anker’s first principle: Start with ease—navigability, comfort, visual calm. “The worst error I see in living rooms is overcrowding,” said the founder of New York City’s Nea Studio. “Spaces, like paintings, need room to breathe.” Among her tips: Allow for ample storage to tuck away clutter. Meanwhile, Aileen Warren, of Jackson Warren Interiors in Houston, warns against filling the room with every stick of furniture on your wish list. “Be sure there’s enough space for traffic to move comfortably in and out of the seating groups,” she said.

Here, designers identify five other living-room gaffes they see far too often, and share their professional workarounds.

1. Conversation Pitfalls

“Don’t design a pretty space for a museum when living rooms are for socialising,” said Marissa Stokes, a Ramsey, N.J., designer. Novice decorators goof up here by leaving chasms between seats or, as Susan Jory points out, lining up all the furniture against the wall. “Seldom does one hold court,” said the London, Ontario, interior designer wryly.

Instead: Nurture intimacy with smart seating placement, says Kevie Murphy, of K.A. Murphy Interiors in Manhasset, N.Y. “Add [bonus-seating] ottomans under consoles, position chairs in the corners of the rooms.” A backless divan allows for “double-sided conversation,” she added. “And be sure each seated person has a table to place a drink or cocktail plate.”

2. Puny Rugs

Emily Del Bello, a New York City designer, looks askance at rooms where the carpet is too tiny to anchor more than a coffee table, while the rest of the room’s pieces float about visually untethered.

Instead: “The rug should go under all the furniture in that area, or at the very least, under the front legs of all sofas and chairs,” said Jen Samson, a Laguna Beach, Calif., designer. “This grounds the space and creates a frame [for] the area.”

For clients obsessed with vintage rugs too small for their living rooms, Katie Davis, an interior designer in Houston, layers the collectible pieces onto plenty-big neutral jutes. Some expansive advice: “Always go larger than you think,” directs Emily Williams of Z Properties, a design-build-interiors firm in Winter Park, Fla.

3. Monotony

Almost as unimaginative as a matching set of furniture is a scheme in which every piece conforms to one style, says Isabel Ladd. “When a living room is decorated completely traditional, or completely modern, the room feels stagnant,” said the Lexington, Ky., designer.

Instead: The décor should combine high and low aesthetics, says Paola Zamudio, founder and CEO at Npz Studio+ in New York City, who suggests, for example, “a designer statement piece combined with a vintage décor piece.” Disparate styles can blend within a single object as well. Linen upholstery and graphic embroidered trim can make a sofa with a traditional silhouette feel fresh, said Ms. Ladd.

4. Scale Fails

Dennese Guadeloupe Rojas, principal designer at Interiors by Design in Silver Spring, Md., warns that buying a one-and-done suite from a furniture showroom can saddle you with both a dull room and relentlessly overscale pieces. Benjamin Deaton has seen folks challenged by a small room err in the other direction, yielding to the false hope of “dollhouse furniture.” Said the Lexington, Ky., designer, “What you get is the opposite, a room that looks cluttered and still small.”

Instead: “Mixing the scale of furniture pieces can actually make the room feel larger and have more depth,” said Mr. Deaton. For those contemplating purchasing new furniture, Chicago design pro Bruce Fox recommends using blue tape to map out their footprint on your floor. To estimate their bulk in three dimensions, he suggests “piling other furniture or even empty boxes onto the footprint to mimic the height of the piece and get the full sense of scale.”

5. Dominating Overheads

One is less likely to curl up with a novel or chat for hours with friends under lights that are operating-theatre-bright.

Instead: “Lighting can change the entire landscape of the room,” said Mr. Deaton, who favours a combination of decorative lamps that double as sculpture, overhead lighting and shaded sconces that add texture and glow to a corner space.

Ms. Jory espouses dimmers: “Ambient lighting on tables and walls, paired with ceiling fixtures also on dimmers, provide a wash of warm, inviting light.”

Monster Chairs and More

Design pros recall egregious parlour schemes

“Recently, a client picked a single piece, an oversize armchair, then tried to design her entire living space around it. She realised, after hiring me, that she had to sell the armchair because it clashed with and crowded the sofa and storage cabinet we picked.” —Nina Edwards Anker, founder, Nea Studio, New York City

“The worst is when people purchase multiple pieces of furniture in the same, neutral upholstery fabric. Sure, the goal was to be cohesive, but the result is unfortunately a space that is sterile, slightly cold and without personality.” —Glenna Stone, interior designer, Philadelphia

“I usually see a massive sofa and a bunch of ditzy, underscale pieces because nothing else will fit properly.” —Liz Caan, interior designer, Boston

“I’ve seen large blowup pool toys laying about a primary living room and oversize shiny La-Z-Boys pushed into corners without anything else in the room.” —Melanie Hay, interior designer, Toronto


Consumers are going to gravitate toward applications powered by the buzzy new technology, analyst Michael Wolf predicts

Chris Dixon, a partner who led the charge, says he has a ‘very long-term horizon’

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Booming demand for wellness tourism shows no slowing, with travel related to health and well-being projected to have reached $1 trillion last year and to hit $1.3 trillion by 2025, according to the Global Wellness Institute, a nonprofit based in Miami.

Curated wellness travel programs are especially sought-after, specifically holistic treatments focused on longevity. Affluent travellers not only are making time to hit the gym while gallivanting across the globe, they’re also seeking destinations that specifically cater to their wellness goals, including treatments aimed at living longer.

“I believe Covid did put a spotlight on self-care and well-being,” says Penny Kriel, corporate director of spa and wellness at Salamander Collection, a group of luxury properties in places like Washington, D.C., and Charleston, South Carolina. But Kriel says today’s spas are more holistic, encouraging folks to understand the wellness concept and incorporate it into their lifestyle more frequently.

“With the evolution of treatment products and technology, spas have been able to enhance their offerings and appeal to more travellers,” Kriel says.

While some growth is connected to the variety of treatments available, results and the digital world are also contributing to the wellness boom.

“The efficacy and benefits of these treatments continue to drive bookings and interest, especially with the support of social media, influencers, and celebrity endorsements,” Kriel says.

While genetics, environmental factors, and lifestyle choices such as regular exercise, a diet free of processed foods, sufficient sleep, and human connection play essential roles in living well and longer, experts believe in holistic therapies to help manage stress, boost immunity, and ultimately influence length and quality of life.

Anti Ageing and Beyond

“For years, people have been coming to spas, booking treatments, and gaining advice on how to turn the clock back with anti ageing and corrective skin treatments,” Kriel says. However, today’s treatments are far more innovative.

On Marinella Beach in Porto Rotondo, on the Italian island of Sardinia, guests at the five-star Abi d’Oru Hotel & Spa can experience the resort’s one-of-a-kind “longevity treatment,” a unique antiaging facial using one of the island’s native grapes: Cannonau. The world’s first declared “Blue Zone”—one of five designated areas where people live longer than average, some into their 100s—Sardinia produces this robust red wine varietal, the most widely planted on the island.

Known as Garnacha in Spain and Grenache in France, Cannonau supposedly contains two to three times more antioxidants than other red-wine grapes. By incorporating Cannonau, Abi Spa says its unique 50-minute longevity session increases collagen production for firmer, younger-looking skin.

Maintaining a youthful appearance is just one facet of longevity treatments, which range from stress-reduction sessions like massage to nutritional support and sleep programs, Kriel says. Some retreats also offer medical services such as IV infusions and joint injections.

Keeping with the trend, Kriel is expanding Salamander Collection’s existing spa services, such as detox wraps and lymphatic drainage, to include dedicated “Wellness Rooms,” new vegan and vegetarian menu items, and well-being workshops. “Sleep, nutrition, and mindfulness will be a big focus for integration in 2024,” she says.

Data-Driven Wellness

Skyler Stillings, an exercise physiologist at Sensei Lanai, a Four Seasons Resort—an adults-only wellness centre in Lanai, Hawaii—says guests were drawn to the social aspect when the spa opened in November 2021.

“We saw a huge need for human connection,” she recalls. But over the past few years, what’s paramount has shifted. “Longevity is trending much more right now.”

Human connection is a central draw for guests at Sensei Lanai, an adults-only and wellness-focused Four Seasons Resort in Hawaii.
Sensei Lanai, A Four Seasons Resort

Billionaire co-founder of tech company Oracle Larry Ellison and physician and scientist Dr. David Angus co-founded Sensei. After the death of a mutual close friend, the duo teamed up to create longevity-based wellness retreats to nurture preventative care and a healthy lifestyle. In addition to the Lanai location, the brand established Sensei Porcupine Creek in Greater Palm Springs, California, in November 2022.

Sensei has a data-driven approach. The team performs a series of assessments to obtain a clearer picture of a guest’s health, making wellness recommendations based on the findings. While Sensei analyses that data to curate a personalised plan, Stillings says it’s up to the guests which path they choose.

Sensei’s core three-day retreat is a “Guided Wellness Experience.” For spa treatments, each guest checks into their own “Spa Hale,” a private 1,000-square-foot bungalow furnished with an infrared sauna, a steam shower, a soaking tub, and plunge pools. The latest therapies include Sarga Bodywalking—a barefoot myofascial release massage, and “Four Hands in Harmony,” a massage with two therapists working in tandem. Sensei Guides provide take-home plans so guests can continue their wellness journeys after the spa.

Sensei Lanai, an adults-only and wellness-focused Four Seasons Resort in Hawaii.
Sensei Lanai, A Four Seasons Resort

Sanctuaries for Longevity

Headquartered in Switzerland with hotels and on-site spas across the globe, Aman Resorts features an integrative approach, combining traditional remedies with modern medicine’s advanced technologies. Tucked behind the doors of the storied Crown Building in Midtown Manhattan, Banya Spa House at Aman New York—the brand’s flagship spa in the Western Hemisphere—is a 25,000-square-foot, three-floor urban oasis.

Yuki Kiyono, global head of health and wellness development at Aman, says the centre provides access to holistic and cutting-edge treatments benefiting physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and social well-being. Aman’s customisable “Immersion Programs” consist of a three- or five-day immersion. “The programs encompass treatments and experiences that touch every significant aspect to create a path for longevity, from meditation and mindfulness to nutrition and movement,” Kiyono explains.

Banya Spa House at Aman New York.
Robert Rieger

The spa’s “Tei-An Wellness Solution” features 90- to 150-minute sessions using massage, cryotherapy, and Vitamin IV infusions. Acupuncture is also on offer.

“With its rich history of Chinese Medicine, modern research, and the introduction of sophisticated electro-acupuncture medicine, acupuncture has been proven to assist with problems and increase performance,” Kiyono says.

Resetting the Mind and Body

Beyond longevity, “healthspan”—the number of years a person can live in good health free of chronic disease—is the cornerstone of Mountain Trek Health Reset Retreat’s program in British Columbia, Canada.

Kirk Shave, president and program director, and his team employ a holistic approach, using lifestyles in long-living Blue Zones as a point of reference.

“We improve our daily lifestyle habits, so we live vitally as long as we’re meant to live,” Shave says of the retreat. He built the program from an anthropological stance, referencing humans as farmers, hunters, and gatherers based on their eating and sleeping patterns. Food includes vegetable-centric meals sans alcohol, sugar, bread, or dairy.

Guests wake at dawn each day and have access to sunrise yoga, several hours of “flow” or slow hiking, spa treatments, forest bathing, calming crystal singing-bowl and sound therapy sessions, and classes on stress reduction—one of Mountain Trek’s primary goals. The program motivates people to spend much of their time in nature because it’s been proven to reduce cortisol, the stress hormone that can lead to inflammation and disease when elevated for extended periods.

While most guests aren’t aware of how immersive Mountain Trek’s program is when they arrive, they leave the resort revitalized after the structured, one-week program. Set in the Kootenays overlooking its eponymous river, the resort and adventure promise what Shave calls a “visceral experience of transformation.”

“They’re interested in coming to be in nature,” Shave says of the guests. “They hit a wall in their life and slipped backwards, so they know they need a reset.”

Banya Spa House at Aman New York provides access to holistic and cutting-edge treatments benefiting physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and social well-being.
Robert Rieger

This article first appeared in the Winter 2024 issue of Mansion Global Experience Luxury.


Consumers are going to gravitate toward applications powered by the buzzy new technology, analyst Michael Wolf predicts

Chris Dixon, a partner who led the charge, says he has a ‘very long-term horizon’

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